June 2015 Newsletter
Several of my students have recently requested that I write something about Svami Duhkhananda, who’s been the subject of a number of my newsletters in the past. I first met him many years ago at my neighborhood coffee house, the Café Loka, which we both frequent almost daily. I’d like to say he’s my teacher, but he forbids it. He says he isn’t and doesn’t want to be a teacher, and anyway even if he were, he wouldn’t accept me as a student. “You’re not ready for a teacher, sonny boy,” he informed me one day (though I’m well into my 60s, the Svami, who might be five years older, is fond of calling me “sonny” or “sonny boy”), “what you need right now is a baby-sitter.”
The Svami (hereafter referred to as D) is a member of a loosely organized “family” (kula) of adepts (siddhas), with a membership of about 3,000 worldwide. Along with D there are three more family members in the Bay Area.
The first is D’s constant companion, Ratanjali, who D calls “my karmic albatross.” If he can be believed, D claims the two of them have spent their last four incarnations together, apparently a “payback” for a faux pas committed in the twelfth century. “He was my teacher back then,” D explained, with a roll of his eyes, “and he had this stunningly beautiful wife who invited me to her room when he was away.” He shrugged and sighed. “What could I do?” At this Ratanjali, who was sitting between us (with his nose, as usual, buried in a book and seemingly oblivious of the conversation), raised his hand and waved it around. “Oooo, I know Mr Duhkhananda,” he cried out, his voice mimicking perfectly a five-year-old’s, “you could have said, ‘No.’”
Ratanjali (hereafter referred to as R) is a most unimposing little man, but the Berkeley Center for Centering reports that he has an IQ exceeding 220, which makes him the third smartest person in history, smarter than the likes of Stephan Hawking and Albert Einstein. When I asked D what R does for a living, he told me that he’s on state disability, having convinced the government that “he’s too smart for his own good.” R supplements his income by teaching prahasana yoga, the yoga of sarcasm.
Then there’s Yogi Meshuganatha (hereafter referred to as M). R could stroll naked through a roomful of people and go unnoticed, but M turns heads wherever he goes. It’s certainly enough of an attention-getter that he’s six-and-a-half feet tall and weighs over 300 pounds. But added to that is an eye patch over one eye (although both his eyes are 20-20, he switches the patch back and forth, right eye on even numbered day, left eye on odd, “to give each eye,” he explained, “every other day off”), heavily tatted arms and neck (on the underside of his right wrist are the devanagari characters for OY, which he calls the “Yiddish OM”), and long, scraggly black hair. He looks like he might play defensive tackle for the Raiders, or serve as the sergeant-at-arms for an outlaw biker club, but as they say, looks can be deceiving, and you won’t find a sweeter, kinder man anywhere on Earth. He joins us at Loka for breakfast whenever he has a day off from his job as an “insecurity guard” in a San Francisco mall.
Finally there’s Shri Shri Ma Ma Anandananda, who I’ve never met face-to-face. D tells me she’s a dream therapist who actually sees her clients in their dreams. This allows her to bypass talking with them, which she maintains (as she explained to D) is pretty much a waste of time, most people have neither the words nor imagination to accurately describe a dream. By entering the dream itself, she comes into direct contact with the images welling up from the deepest unconscious, and so can work with her clients’ neuroses without any distraction or interference from the client. She also creates waking dreams for clients who are insomniacs.
I once asked D how to become a member of the family, if being enlightened was a prerequisite. He and R burst into laughter, and when they finally regained their composure, D said (still gasping for breath), “This is exactly why you’re not ready for a teacher, sonny. Enlightenment!” He and R broke down again, and it was several minutes before the conversation could resume. D laid a hand on my shoulder. “Look,” he said gently, “I thought we went over this already. The universe is a mirror created by Consciousness so that it can look at itself in order to understand itself and answer the only question worth asking: ‘Who am I?.’ Each of us is an agent of that Consciousness, by and through whom Consciousness reveals itself to itself. This revelation won’t happen overnight. We’re all of us moving slowly toward what you call “enlightenment,” but it’s not an individual state. If even one of us isn’t enlightened, then none of us are.
One day in the very far distant future when the very last living un-self-revealed creature is finally revealed to itself, at that instant all will be “enlightened.” Then in the blink of an eye, with a little ‘pfft,’ the universe will disappear, and after a brief respite, it will re-appear in an entirely new configuration, and the creatures inhabiting it will begin anew.
Now some of us are moving faster, some slower. In every age the faster ones are revered (or despised) by slower. Remember though it’s all relative. If I’m in the second grade, a third grader seems special, a fourth grader god-like. But we’re all still in elementary school and have a lot of work to do before we earn our PhDs. Forget about enlightenment, there’s no such thing, and beware of anyone who claims that for him or herself, they’re operating under a dangerous illusion.” More from the Svami next month.
Speaking of illusions, it seems illusory that we’re almost mid-way through 2015, but I just pinched myself and sure enough, we really are. I guess the first item I have to report is that I’m reluctantly ending my Saturday class at the Yoga Room, and transferring it (back) to You and the Mat on Piedmont Avenue. It’ll start at the rather odd time of 11:45 am and run for 90 minutes to 1:15 pm. The last Yoga Room class is coming up this Saturday, the first YATM class will meet the next week on June 6. (If you pre-paid for Saturday classes I’ll and have any remaining after this week, you can apply it to my Monday YR class or I’ll give you a refund).
I’m also scheduled for two events in June. On Father’s Day, June 21, I’m leading a workshop from 2:00 to 5:00 pm at Yoga Kula on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. For all the information about that one, go to www.yogakula.com.
Then from 25 to 28 June I’m down in Laguna Niguel at the southern California version of You and the Mat. I’m really looking forward to seeing the school that Eric and Denise have built down there. For all the information on this one, go to www.youandthemat.com.
One more note. On 30 May Donald Moyer, the distinguished founder of the Yoga Room, will make his retirement from teaching official. Most of the old-timers in the East Bay owe a huge debt of gratitude to Donald. If you weren’t in his classes at the old Yoga Room back in the 80s and 90s, you were missing the best instruction available in our neck of the woods. He was instrumental in helping me, Rodney and Clare set up the now defunct Piedmont Yoga Studio in 1987. He may be retiring but his legacy will live on in countless teachers around the country. Every time one of my students responds successfully to finger poke and my instruction to “Move here,” I can’t help but call out in my best Donald imitation, “Like that!”